Neandertal mDNA and Sample Sizes

John Hawks takes it down:

Now, let’s consider the question: Can we predict anything about Neandertal evolution and relationships based on this small, possibly unrepresentative sample of mtDNA?

The answer is that it doesn’t matter very much whether we have 5 sequences or 500. If 15 out of 15 specimens from different sites across Europe preserve a single mtDNA haplogroup, we can’t say it was universal, but we can say it was common. If 40 out of 50, or 400 out of 500 specimens had the same haplogroup, that would increase the precision, but not change the basic fact: Neandertals had at least one common haplogroup that is now so rare it has never been found in a sample of 100,000 or more people. We deserve some explanation.

The possible explanations are:

  1. Random genetic drift
  2. Accelerated genetic drift due to demographic turnover
  3. Population extinction and replacement
  4. Natural selection

Great Post!

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